Australian couple charged with spying in Iran released

SYDNEY An Australian travel blogging couple who

were detained in Iran on spying charges have been released and returned home

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Saturday.

Perth based Jolie King and Mark Firkin had been documenting their journey

from Australia to Britain on social media for the past two years but went

silent after posting updates from Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan about three months

ago.

They were alleged to have used a drone to take pictures of military sites

and forbidden areas an Iranian judiciary spokesman said last month.

Payne said Saturday the pair had been reunited with their family in

Australia following very sensitive negotiations with Tehran.

We are extremely happy and relieved to be safely back in Australia with

those we love the couple said in a statement issued by the foreign ministry

on Saturday.

While the past few months have been very difficult we know it has also

been tough for those back home who have been worried for us.

The couple asked for privacy and said intense media coverage may not be

helpful in the negotiations for the release of a third Australian detained

in Iran in an unrelated case.

Melbourne University Academic Kylie Moore Gilbert who specialises in

Middle East politics with a focus on Gulf states had been detained for some

months before King and Firkin were arrested.

Her case also came to light last month. Moore Gilbert is accused by

Iranian authorities of spying for another country.

Negotiations over the fate of the university lecturer are very long

term Payne said.

She has been detained for some considerable time and has faced the

Iranian legal system and has been convicted and sentenced the foreign

minister told reporters.

We don't accept the charges on which she was convicted and we would seek

to have her returned to Australia Payne added declining to comment further

on the case.

The arrests came to light last month after Canberra announced it would

contribute a frigate and surveillance aircraft to a US led mission to protect

shipping through the Strait of Hormuz with tensions high in the Gulf region.

Payne has maintained the cases of those detained were not related to

diplomatic tensions.

Prisoner swap proposal

News of the release of the King and Firkin comes just weeks after an

Iranian woman arrested in Australia and sentenced in the United States was

returned home.

Negar Ghodskani was sentenced last month in Minneapolis to 27 months in

prison for violating sanctions against Tehran but was released following time

served in custody in Australia and the United States.

After her extradition to the US she confessed to participation in a

conspiracy to illegally export technology to Iran in breach of sanctions

according to the US Justice Department.

She was pregnant when she was arrested in 2017 in Australia where she was

a legal resident. She gave birth while in Australian custody and her son was

sent to Iran to live with his father.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in April floated a potential

prisoner swap with a British Iranian mother being held in Tehran.

He suggested exchanging Ghodskani for Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe in jail

in Tehran for alleged sedition.

Zaghari Ratcliffe was also separated from her child while in custody.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)